Chronicle of Slave rebellions in the Americas.

All societies practicing slavery will have to deal with slave revolts because there is that desire for Freedom in any human being. One can express it in their songs or their story-telling nights. It becomes part of their culture and an art in knowing how to implant it on others with the same background.

History is full of examples of such revolts. When a Roman slave named Spartacus (73-71 BC) rose against abuses committed by the Roman Empire or a Scandinavian Slave Tunni, in the 9th century, revolted against the Swedish Monarchy, you can also understand well how the slaves of Santo Domingo, Bookman, Dessalines and others may have felt in the 18th century (1791) against the French Imperialism of Napoleon Bonaparte. The French revolution indeed bought to us the words of Liberty and Equality for all.

Muhammed led the east African slaves in the Zani Rebellion in Iraq to revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate. Nanny of the Maroons revolted against the British in Jamaica. In continental United States, Denmark Vesey rebelled in South Carolina.

Ancient Sparta had serfs called helots who rebelled against the Spartans as reported by Herodotus. English peasants revolted in 1381 to obtain reform in the feudalism system in England and increase the right of the serfs and Richard II agreed to their requests. In Russia, the slaves were called Kholops and slavery remained an institution until 1723 when Peter the Great converted the slaves into serfs. They became outlaws called “Cossacks” living in the southern steppes. Numerous rebellions and Cossacks uprisings with Ivan Bolotnikov (1606), Stenka Razin (1667), Kondraty Butavin (1707) are some of the many hundred outbreaks across Russia.

Numerous African slave revolts took place in America during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. More than 250 uprising have been documented. Slaves like Gabriel Prosser (Richmond, VA 1800), Denmark Vesey (Charleston SC 1822) Nat Turner (South Hampton County VA 1831) merit their named to be mentioned and this is the story of the most striking revolts that I want to bring to light.

I have taken solemnly that task to bring to light the most distinctive slave revolutions in the Americas and chose to review some of the most epic African slave revolts which have marked forever the new world in this “Chronicle of African Slave revolts in the Americas”. I am sure you will find time to appreciate what our ancestors have done to make Haiti a free Nation for the Haitians.

This month, we will talk about the 1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation.

Slave revolt in the Cherokee Nation 1842

The Cherokee Nation was located in Indian Territory, West to the Mississippi River, in present Oklahoma. A large group of slaves escaped on the 15 November 1842. A group of 20 African-American slaves in Cherokee Indians territory escaped and tried to reach Mexico where slavery was abolished since 1829. Another group of 15 African American slaves from the Creek territory joined them in the escape.

More, 2 slave catchers were taking eight captive slaves to Choctaw territory. They took the opportunity to kill the hunters and the family joined their group. The Cherokee sought reinforcements and raised around 100 of Cherokee and Choctaw warriors to pursue and capture the fugitive. Five slaves were later executed for killing the two slave catchers and this event inspired subsequent rebellions in the Indian territory forcing the Cherokee Nation to pass stricter slave codes. If the Indians has practiced the art of enslaving prisoners of war in fighting other tribes, following the new European contract in the late 18th century have permitted some Cherokee to set up plantations on their Cherokee Nation Land mimicking European Americans. Soon parts of Georgia and Tennessee were ready for them to have plantations allowing them to purchase African American slaves to work their land.

A slave code was respected in 1819 to regulate the trades, forbidden intermarriage with punishment for runaway slaves and the interdiction to own land. Later in the 1829 law modifications, it was added that a fine of 15 dollars to be given to the master if slaves were allowed to buy or sell liquor. The slaves worked primarily as agricultural laborers cultivating cotton and food for their masters. They also developed salt mines and trading posts with slave labor.

The Cherokee Indians bought the salves with them in the 1820’s when the federal government removed them from the southeastern states. Joseph Vann has taken with him 200 slaves to perform the physical labor. They loaded wagons, cleared roads and took care of the livestock. In 1835, the Cherokees owned an estimated 1500 slaves of African descent, 300 mixed races (Metis) mainly descendants of European traders and Cherokee women which form an elite class in the Indian Territory. Most of the metis will owe each 25 to 50 slaves on plantations of around 100 acres or less to cultivate wheat, cotton, corn, hemp and tobacco. They owe also large cattle and horse herds.

An estimated 4600 slaves belong to the Cherokee Nation in 1860 working as domestic servants and farm laborers. During the civil war, there were more than 8000 slaves in Indian Territory, forming 14% of the population

The mass escape of 20 African American slaves from the Cherokee territory began on the 15th of November 1842. I was named “the most spectacular act of rebellion again slavery” among the Cherokee. They were from the plantation of James and “Rich Joe” Vann. Those slaves gathered and raided local stores for weapons, ammunition, horses and mules. They headed south for Mexico where slavery was abolished since 1836. Along the way, the picked up 15 other slaves from the Creek territory. Creek and Cherokee pursued the victims but they met enough resistance to turn back for re-enforcements despite of killing or capturing 14.

On their way south, the fugitives encountered two slave catchers James Edwards and Billy Wilson who were returning a family of 3 adults and 5 children to the Choctaw Indians. They killed the catchers and continued their way south.

A Cherokee Militia John Drew of 100 citizens was authorized by the Cherokee National Council in Tahlequah, to pursue, arrest and delivered the African slaves to Fort Gibson. The expeditionary forces caught the slaves seven miles north of the red river. The fugitives were tired, weak and hungry and did not have the strength to resist.

They were returned to their Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee reservations. 5 slaves were executed for killing the catchers. Some placed the surviving slaves in different work environment like steamboat, shoveling coal. Other returned to their previous duty.

This slave revolt inspired future slave rebellions in Indian Territories. In 1851, an account of 300 slaves have attempted to escape Indian Territory in heading mostly to Mexico or Kansas territory where slavery was prohibited.

Indian slaveholders started to enter the business of buying and selling slaves to states like Texas and Arkansas. Non-slave holding Indians were hired to catch runaway slaves. Some of the slaveholders become wealthy in providing such service. The Indian Nation passed stricter slave code forbidden free blacks to enter the territory. After the American Civil War the Cherokee Nation and their planters shifted from agriculture to manufacturing small scale products.

Mass escape resulted in casualties and deaths for slaves and Indian masters, so newspapers started reporting on the 1842 slave revolt until the Fort Smith Elevator of Arkansas published and anniversary article about the escape of the African American slaves, providing some kind of mystic power on the event and adding that in spite of 20 slave, now hundred have disappeared.

Maxime Coles MD


1-    “Slavery” Archived October 18, 2010 Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

2-    Tiya Miles, Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, University of California Press, 2005, pp. 179-173.

3-    William Gerald Mc Laughlin (1993): “Slave holding and anti-slavery efforts, 1846-1855”, in After the Trial of Tears: The Cherokees ‘Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880. Universitiy of North Carolina Press. pp. 121-153.

4-    Art T Burton, “Cherokee Slave Revolt in 1842, “True West Magazine (June 1996)

5-    Rudi Halliburton, Jr., Red Over Black: Black Slavery among the Cherokee Indians (Westport Connecticut.: Greenwood Press, 1977)

6-    Daniel F Littlefield, Jr Africans and Creeks: From the Colonial Period to the Civil War, Westport Connecticut.: Greenwood Press, 1979.

7-    Morris L. Wardell, A Political History of the Cherokee Nation, 1838-19-7 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977).

8-    Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971).



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